Written by Philip Somarakis
March 1 2017 marked a significant change in the sentencing powers available to Magistrates when dealing with people caught using their mobile phones while driving.
Such drivers can now receive an increased six penalty points and a £200 fine, even if it is their first offence, as the Government seeks to clamp down on dangerous driving. Beforehand, offenders were dealt with by means of a £100 fine and 3 penalty points.
In more serious cases, police officers have powers to prosecute drivers for careless or dangerous driving, plus drivers may also be asked to provide a breath test.
The Government has stated that the change in law is necessary to reflect the severity of the offence. Not only will those caught get a £200 fixed penalty fine, but if they are caught twice and accrue 12 points, they will automatically appear in court and face a fine of up to £1,000 and a driving ban of up to six months.
One of the biggest changes is that new drivers could face having their licenses revoked after the first offence, and to regain them they will have to reapply for a provisional licence, after which they will only be allowed to drive as a learner until passing further theory and practical tests. This process would run up a bill of over £100 on top of the £200 fine, so not only is it dangerous, it will be a very expensive mistake to make.
A further point of interest is that although it is currently legal to use hands free kits, satellite navigation systems and two-way radios when driving, the police may also prosecute drivers using hands free kits if due to the distraction of talking on the phone, their driving falls below the required standard and, for example, an accident occurs.
One thing that is certain is that there will be increased police activity to catch motorists using mobile phones while driving over the coming months. Drivers should expect police operations using unmarked vans, high vantage points and helmet cams to catch offenders, along with partnership with local authorities and emergency services to deter people from taking the risks, and possibly community ‘spotters’ to highlight hotspots and repeat offenders to police.
Thank you to Adam Evans, trainee solicitor in our Regulatory Solutions department, for his help in preparing this article.
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